Apple Mac U.S. units down 16 pct in February: NPD

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - U.S. retail sales of Apple Inc's AAPL.O Mac computers fell 16 percent in February on a unit basis, even as low-cost netbooks helped Windows-based PCs sales rise 22 percent, research group NPD said on Monday.

Unit sales of Macbook laptops dropped 7 percent, while Windows laptops jumped 36 percent. Without netbooks, Windows laptops rose 16 percent, NPD said.

NPD figures are a closely watched measure for Apple sales, but they do not include data on direct sales from PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard Co HPQ.N and Dell Inc DELL.O. The figures include sales from Apple stores, retailers such as Best Buy BBY.N and e-commerce sites such as AMZN.O. Data from Wal-Mart WMT.N is not included.

NPD analyst Steve Baker said Apple’s high-priced products are proving to be a tougher sell as U.S. consumers struggle through a crippling recession.

“I think the issue for them remains pricing in this kind of an environment,” he said.

However, Baker noted that “demand is difficult everywhere ... even though Apple unit volumes may be challenged right now, at the end of the day, they’re a lot more likely to be profitable than other manufacturers.”

Prices also came down in February. The average selling price on Mac laptops dropped around 7 percent to $1,512, NPD said. On the Windows side, netbooks’ popularity was evident as the ASP on laptops tumbled 22 percent to $560.

Mac desktop units fell 36 percent in February, while Windows-based desktops dropped 10 percent.

Apple refreshed its line of desktops two weeks ago, and analysts expect sales to pick up in March.

Apple does not give mid-quarter updates on sales.

Shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple closed the regular session down 51 cents at $95.42.

Reporting by Gabriel Madway; Editing by Bernard Orr